4 October 2012
Social Services Select Committee
Submission: Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill
I was very concerned to hear about this Bill and would like to share the serious objections I and my family have to it.
We are extremely concerned about the “social obligations” that will compel beneficiaries to send their children to an approved Early Childhood Education provider for 15 hours a week beginning at age 3. Of course it is a perfectly reasonable thing to send a 3-year-old child to ECE, although research has shown that this is not an optimal learning environment. However we strongly object to beneficiaries being compelled to send their children there. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Standards (E/C.12/1999/10, Article 13.29), “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Compulsory ECE for beneficiaries’ children prevents parents from choosing not to send their children to ECE. It is a breach of beneficiaries’ human rights.
Current government programs already provide 20 hours’ free ECE per week as an incentive to parents to send their children to ECE, which seems to be working: Statistics quoted in the Ministry of Social Development’s Welfare Reform Paper E show that 95% of children already attend ECE with a registered provider. The remaining 5% may easily be accounted for by children living in rural areas with no readily accessible ECE facilities, children from poor families who cannot afford a family car to transport them to ECE, and children whose parents have made a principled decision to opt out of the mainstream ECE industry and provide enriching and stimulating early learning environments in their own home.
Given these facts, compulsory ECE would only make life harder for everyone. For the rural families who will have to travel long distances at their own cost so that their children can attend ECE. For the poor families whose inability to get their children to ECE will result in further poverty as they take a 50% benefit cut. And for home educating and other families who prefer to teach their own children at home rather than send them to preschool.
Additionally, according to educational research (see, for example, Dr Jane Silloway Smith’s contribution to the “Should preschool be compulsory?” article in the NZ Herald on 21 September 2012), although ECE can benefit some children, it is far inferior to child development than constant quality interaction between children and their parents. In 1960, US psychologist Harold McCurdy published an article in the journal of the Smithsonian Institute titled “The Childhood Pattern of Genius.” According to this article the three ingredients for genius in children are:
- Much time with warm, responsive parents and other adults;
- Isolation from other children their own age; and
- Freedom for children to explore their own interests.
Obviously a preschool environment minimises all three of these factors. While some parents will be unable or unwilling to provide quality ECE to their children at home, others will be ready, willing, and able to do so and the Bill will prevent them from providing their children with a superior education.
The already high ECE rates and the inferiority of ECE should be enough of a reason to oppose the social obligations in the Bill, let alone the flagrant breach of human rights it is to coerce families to send their children to preschool.
We are also extremely concerned about the other social obligations compelling parents to register their children with registered health practitioners and attend Well Child checks. Again, this is coercion, not freedom. Again, statistics from Welfare Reform Paper E show that only 0.2% of children miss their Well Child checks. Again, parents should have the right to make their own decisions about their child’s health, as well as education.
We are further opposed to the way the Bill redefines domestic purposes beneficiaries and widows as jobseekers, and seeks to move them into work. Many beneficiaries are single mothers who would prefer to invest their time in their children and families rather than seek employment. This time investment is extremely valuable to society as it is an investment in future members of society. It also represents a legitimate life path as a homemaker and mother, which is the simple ambition of many women.
Finally, we would like to register our opposition to the sanctions imposed on families who breach their social obligations to send their children to ECE or attend Well Child checks. Families who continue to refuse to do so after three “support contacts” with case managers will be subject to a 50% benefit cut and “intensified case management support”, which according to Welfare Reform Paper E has been set up to include CYFS involvement and fraud investigation. We consider this extreme. Many families will refuse to send their children to ECE or register their children with an approved health care provider as a matter of principle. It is these parents—responsible, principled parents who have made informed decisions—that will be subjected to interference from CYFS and fraud investigators: not neglectful or abusive parents, who will be easily encouraged to follow the government programme. These sanctions target, not those who simply need encouragement to fill social obligations, but those who have already made principled decisions to fill those social obligations in other ways.
This bill is coercive, it breaches human rights, and it targets responsible parents. We ask that it be totally rejected.
I would be happy to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
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